Resetting the mind

I feel again like writing here about a bit more than just the occasional travel photos and stories, so here’s the first attempt :) I went to an intense Buddhist meditation retreat last week, which was overall very good and useful for me, but now I want to write about just one aspect of it:

It sometimes (or rather, often :) ) happens to me that my mind gets stuck in some particular thought pattern, that some sort of a dark mood comes over me for a while. I don’t want to be too specific here (but I’m happy to talk about it, feel free to ask), but I think that the topics are not so surprising or uncommon, like what I;m doing with my life, relationships with others, and such fun stuff. It can appear gradually, but after a while of living in such a mood, it becomes an undisputed fact that this is how things are, typically gets connected with being constantly a little stressed… and it’s very hard to even notice that I have a strange, depressive mood at all.

For example, during the PhD in the US this was quite common and connected to the uncertainty whether I should be there at all, if I wanted to actually do math, etc. And this was in my mind very often, almost as a background to anything else I was doing. The surprising thing was that when I came home to Czechia for the holidays, after a while this bad feeling mostly disappeared… and then when I returned to the US a few weeks later, I felt much calmer and could see things with more composure… at least for a while, until it returned.

For part of this summer I also felt some disquiet and worries, also still when I was going to the meditation retreat. The first day there didn’t go too well for me, as I was very tired and sleepy. But then after a while, I noticed that I could see more clearly what was going on with these doubts and that they disappeared, or didn’t feel so urgent and absolute any more. As if my mind got freed of this bad pattern, or partly restarted.

Overall, I feel that what happens is that the mind sometimes gets stuck in a pattern of (negative) thoughts, and then it’s hard to even recognize this or to do something effective about it (being unhappy or upset that I’m a little depressed of course doesn’t help)… And yet sometimes, partly by magic or accident, the mind can reset itself back to a better state, from which the previous worries don’t look anywhere as serious as they used to. For me, changing the environment often helps, especially when it is to go to the Himalayas :) (yes, that’s one of the reasons why I like to go there so much). But still, this is not very systematic, nor practicable too often. This meditation retreat facilitated such a change for me now.

Well, this shouldn’t be too surprising, after all, Buddhist meditation is all about calming the mind and observing what’s going on in it. Yet I somehow noticed this aspect only now. Meditating is easy and doesn’t take too long (you can of course do it just at home) and – at least for me now – seems like a systematic way of getting my mind unstuck and restarted to a better mode.

And of course, I guess that one wouldn’t be too wrong by formulating the main Buddhist teachings as: The mind is composed of such wrong thought patterns, some quite shallow (as the examples that I mentioned), others much much deeper. Yet, by practicing meditation (in the right way), one can eventually become free of all of them.

One final, partly related thought: It seems that sometimes taking hallucinogenic drugs, even just once, can permanently alter the mind, e.g., causing persisting hallucinations. I read about it here and it seems to suggest that it’s possible to switch the mind to a different, broken mode, out of which there is no way back. Quite a scary thought (and yet one more reason not to take any drugs)…

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2 responses to “Resetting the mind

  1. I wonder how you can claim that “meditation is easy”. For me, it seems to deepen the crisis, at least initially. Deciding whether there is any point in trying to meditate is one of the reoccuring topics in my life – it just seems like such a painful and hopeless endeavor, despite all the benefits that everyone sees in it! Maybe it’s something about me taking it too seriously and hoping for a quick fix of issues that actually are meant to be life-long struggles…

  2. Well, that’s a good point :)
    When I wrote it, I meant it as “easy compared to going to India for two months”… which I still think is quite true.
    But then I have also very often in the past struggled with my motivation to meditate.. and wrote this post when enthusiastic after returning from a good retreat, also partly to reinforce to myself this sense of purpose in meditating.

    One “trick” that makes quite a lot of difference for me in trying to meditate is being aware of any expectations of how good, useful or pleasant it should be and just sitting down and meditating without caring about the outcome. But that’s of course easier said than done…

    But anyway, my point in writing the post hasn’t been to convince people to meditate, but rather to point out that (at least for me) it’s very interesting how easily our whole view of the world gets colored by the state of our mind… and that it’s often hard to even realize that this is happening.
    But it’s quite possible that meditation isn’t the best way of dealing with this – at least, it certainly depends on the person…

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